By Gunilla Theander Kester
We shall overcome. I know it because we’re Buffalo strong. Since I moved here, some 25 years ago, how many times have I exclaimed: Only in Buffalo!
When I walked my eager Australian shepherd Lily and a truck drove by, stopped, and backed up. I pulled Lily away wondering what the truck driver wanted. Directions, perhaps? But the driver had gone by us quickly and without hesitation. He didn’t seem lost. A man with a beard lowered the window and yelled at me: “May I give your dog a treat?” I nodded. He threw a big dog treat out the window, waved, revved up his truck, and he was gone in a cloud of dust. I shook my head. Only in Buffalo!
Having lived in cities, towns and villages on three continents and traveled to almost 40 countries, I have some perspective. Buffalo is unique and in a very good way.
It’s been more than 11 years since Flight 3407 went down on Long Street and 50 souls were lost, including my sweet friend Cantor Susan Wehle. To this day wherever I go, people seek me out to share with me a memory or a story about Cantor Susan.
“She helped me when I was a young mother and confused.”
“I didn’t know you read Hebrew from right to left, but she cleared it up for me.”
“When my mother was dying and in the hospital, Cantor Susan came every day.”
At first, in my own grief, I didn’t want to hear these stories, but I have come to treasure them. Only in Buffalo! Our shared memory of tragedy strengthens us.
And then there was the curious funny incident on the way to the silos in the southwest corner of Buffalo. My friend the poet Perry S. Nicholas had invited me to read at an event in the Silos. I had just returned from Ghana, West Africa, where I had caught some nasty local bug about as bad as Covid-19. After weeks of fever and traveling, I was skinny, raw and hungry, so my friend Babette offered to drive since she’s kind and good at it.
We took the 33 only to find the road to the Silos blocked because of roadwork in the area. Spotting an old man working in his garden, we pulled up and asked him how we could get to the Silos. He came across the street, stroking his beard and looking at us lost women. “I can’t explain,” he said. “Follow me.” He got into his old Chevy, backed out of his narrow driveway and turned left. We hung on his tailpipe.
“No outlet. Dead end.” The signs were clear, but the old man did not slow down. Instead he gently coaxed his car onto the sidewalk, across a stretch of harsh gravel, and over an abandoned lot covered with thistles and dry grass. At the other end, a sad rusty gate hung limply like an old flag waving at us as we drove by.
Africa still hot in my blood, I waved back and didn’t worry too much about potential trespassing or other petty crimes. I remembered the words of the great Martin Luther King in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “You have been the veterans of creative suffering.” Our desperate creative driving following the old man paid off. We could see the towering Silos and a brightly colorful sign “POETRY” flapping in the wind.
Before we had time to express our gratitude, the old man was off in a cloud of smoke, too proud to hear our thanks.
Only in Buffalo!
Gunilla Theander Kester, Ph.D., lives in Williamsville.